Laying Down the Groundwork

Every time I run a marathon, I start to royally freak out about a week before the big day. As I prepare for Milwaukee’s Lakefront Marathon next Sunday, I’m officially in the marathon zone of craziness. As I type this, for example, my left knee is hurting for absolutely no reason at all. It is physically fine, yet in my mind, I’m convinced it’ll be injured for Sunday. This Looney Tune thought is nothing new. In the past, I’ve imagined illnesses that include but are not limited to: mono, strep, chicken pox, and my favorite, appendicitis.  I never actually had any of these conditions before a race, but managed to convince myself that I did.  (Note that to date I’ve never had to cancel a race due to sickness.)

Now it is Monday, and I am carefully planning each minute of activity this week, monitoring each morsel that I put in my mouth.  I am also carrying hand sanitizer with me class to class, and considering wearing a face mask when teaching germy elementary students.  You see, these are the factors that I can control; my sneezing third grader will NOT get me sick, gosh darnit!  Other things, like worrying if I did enough miles during my training, do not help me now.   I know I’ve done my work, but the thing is, most runners freak out at this point in the game because marathon training is absolutely counterintuitive.  The training schedule has the longest runs occurring several weeks before marathon day, so that the body can establish a base, and then repair itself for race day. This leaves many a runner wondering how they’re going to run 26.2 when they can barely remember their 20-milers.

Yet, having run a few marathons, I know this isn’t true. Months of long runs have laid the groundwork, and now I know I need to just let go and leave things up to fate.  I do this, realizing that I might have a great race, I might have a terrible one; whatever the case, there is not much more in the realm of training that I can do.  Now, I simply must rest and nourish my body for Sunday, and trust that my months of hard work will serve as a solid foundation.

That said, it seems this concept of laying the groundwork comes into play often in life.  Whether we are training for a marathon, planning a wedding, preparing for an exam, or attending medical school, our lives are full of groundwork-laying events.  For example, my mom has been on my hometown’s library board for 33 years, and has dreamed of the day when a new library would be built. After the board spent literally years working to make this happen, the new library will soon open its doors to the public.  A patron at the grand opening will see a gorgeous new building, but won’t know that the groundwork for this amazing structure is decades old. Success does not happen overnight.

So, really, when you think of it, landmark events like grand openings of libraries, weddings, graduations, and marathons are only part of the equation.  They are the culminating events in the stories of our lives that are built upon hard work, dedication, and perseverance.  And when we lay the groundwork with such things, we know that no matter what happens on race day, we can and should be proud, because so much more went into it than meets the eye.  The many miles we’ve logged are the true indicators of our success; what happened along the journey is what made it possible to get there in the first place.

Whatever “marathon”  you’re training for, remember it’s really not about crossing the finish line, it’s about everything you do to get there.  After all, without some good long runs, how do we expect to get anywhere?

Here’s to long runs, hard work, and well-deserved tapers.

by abbey algiers

copyright 2011

Pluses and Minuses

“Back to school” is a crazy time for people of all ages. For parents, it’s time to get everyone back in the swing of things, on schedule, and ready for action.  For kids, it is the ultimate reality check when their carefree existence comes to a screeching halt. For teachers, it’s all of the above, plus about six million other things.

As an ESL teacher who works in two buildings, sometimes I feel as if my list of six million things is doubled.  As usual, my first days this year were spent in a state of organized chaos, trying to set up a schedule that works for kids and my fellow ESL staffers. So, in addition to experiencing nearly the same jolting reality check that kids do, the beginning of the year often has me wondering just which end is up.  On day two, I slid into the break room for a quick 10 minute lunch.  One of the school’s aides was there as well.  Good timing, as I knew he was a master of scheduling- he worked in our school as a five-hour aide, then went to his other job as a full- time police officer.  Forgetting about my own schedule for a minute, I asked him about his, since my concerns seemed rather silly in comparison. He told me that while last year he’d work first shift at school, and third shift at the police department, he was going to be at the station second shift this year.   “Which is nice because I can just work straight through then,” he cheerfully noted.

I thought about both scenarios- working ALL NIGHT long, then coming to school to work with middle schoolers, or working with kids all day, and then not going home until midnight. Both scenarios freaked me out. I asked him which (if either!) schedule he preferred. In a totally upbeat tone, he told me, “Well, you know, I’m not sure. They both have their pluses and minuses.”

Wow, here was a guy looking at really long days full of all sorts of challenges, who accepted the good and bad of both. This made me feel like a royal jerk for all of the little inconveniences that I liked to focus on in the “whiner section” of my brain.  It also  brought me back to a half marathon I ran on one of this summer’s hottest days, where someone I ran next to had his own jokester way of plus-ing and minus-ing the run.   “At least it’s not 110 degrees.”   “At least I don’t have heat stroke yet.”   “At least we’re not running with two broken ankles.”   He continued to list more silly extremes that put our current heat-induced distress in perspective.

The thing is, pretty much every run and every situation in our lives- professional, personal, or otherwise- contains both pluses and minuses.  But instead of focusing on the minuses, maybe its better just to look at them as being part of this completely imperfect thing called life, and focus on what my sister calls “the plus column.”  Yes, the minuses will always be there, but if we look more closely at those things in the plus column, then perhaps soon the pluses will outweigh the minuses, and our whole outlook will be a bit more cheery.

For example, as I write this, just two days into the new school year… I could tell myself I’m two days closer to the last day of school. Right?  Mile two of a marathon can be “24 left, oh no!” or “two down!”  It’s all in how you look at it.

So, keep moving forward friends, and remember this little ditty that can be applied to your runs, or just about anything…

The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude.  ~Dennis S. Brown

Copyright 2011

by Abbey Algiers